Yung Lean is perhaps one of the most polarizing, esoteric and weird figures on the internet. At just 19 years old, the Swedish artist and his Sad Boys rap crew have managed to attract legions of cult followers through a bizarre aesthetic that stems from a sense of Tumblr-tinged bedroom escapism, a fetishization of suburban ennui, early-mid 2000s pop culture, drugs and Arizona iced tea.
Since the release of his gauzy 2014 debut LP, Unknown Memory, Lean has successfully (and surprisingly) transitioned from YouTube troll oddity to bonafide niche sensation.
Now back with a sophomore album, Warlord, we examine several components that makeup up Yung Lean’s artistry.
Chopped & Screwed
Yung Lean’s sound is a bit hard to slap a tag on, but he’s often considered a poster child of the so-called “cloud rap” subgenre. For those unfamiliar with the term, cloud rap (also called “trillwave”) is pretty much Tumblr’s answer to hip-hop music and is commonly defined via its reliance on ethereal, New Age-like atmospherics and sedated beats over decipherable lyrics and speedy rapping styles.
But while the obscure subgenre teeters on multiple territories within the sound sphere – dream pop, progressive trance, trap, ambient – cloud rap, at its core, bears the strongest similarity to chopped and screwed. With its gauzy, funereal aura and molasses-paced rapping, Lean not only taps into chopped and screwed’s sonic characteristics, but the genre’s originator, the late DJ Screw, was a purveyor of the purple, codeine-based beverage “lean,” which the Swedish rapper has ripped in his namesake, lyrics and artwork.
“Post-Internet” loosely refers to an art movement defined by aesthetics and cultures which have spawned via the internet, mainly resulting in the modes by which people communicate through it. It’s a pretty controversial and broad term that’s highly criticized in the art community, but social platforms like Myspace and Tumblr have been breeding grounds for Post-Internet artists.
Millennials are perhaps the biggest Post-Internet offenders, using their nostalgia of ’90s pop culture and early exposure to cyberspace as paint for their URL-generated canvases. The movement has also been responsible for spearheading some of the most obscure micro-genres and subcultures in recent times, such as the Netscape-bred, aqua-tinged aesthetics of seapunk and the mystical, dystopian bearings of vaporwave.
Yung Lean is by and large a product of the internet and a leading example of a generation of youths who garner fame through social media. After his video for “Ginseng Strip 2002” went viral in 2013, Lean’s visuals would be recognized by their lo-fi quality, amateur After Effects renderings and rapid-fire references to pop culture.
Often presented in spacey, collage-like layouts, the Sad Boy’s videos are lacquered with things like retro 3D net graphics, Windows 95 typeface, floating Arizona iced tea bottles, Pokémon cards and Nintendo 64 avatars; bedroom escapism by way of a ’90s baby looking to find solace in an iCloud fantasy, if you will.
Lean has been dubbed as a troll on multiple accounts: his half-assed rapping style, glamorization of depression and bad fashion sense. But hey, at least the guy does it with conviction. Born in 1996, the rapper was perhaps a bit too young to be binging on popular 2000s shows like Jersey Shore and the The Simple Life – Pauly D and Paris Hilton were probably not the best role models for a tween just hitting puberty – but he’s certainly taken notice of the era’s fashion trends.
Lean’s steez can be described as a cross between Ed Hardy guido juicehead who frequents EDM festivals, meets Ugg boot-wearing, PSL-sipping basic bitch who loves the fall. But he doesn’t limit himself to just those post-millennium American stereotypes; sometimes, the Sad Boy can be seen channeling Laguna Beach prepster jock complete with popped-collar Polo shirts and North Face fleece jackets, while other times he taps Viva La Bam sk8erboi wearing bucket hats and metal graphics-emblazoned long-sleeves (akin to his new line of merch). Part irony, part hot mess, all parts fleeky in our humble opinion.
With songs bearing titles like “Kyoto,” “Yoshi City” and “Tokyo Drift,” Lean’s affection for Japanese culture is sprinkled into multiple facets of his work. Lean makes frequent references to childhood fads such as Pokémon, Manga and Nintendo in his lyrics, while visuals of the aforementioned are often found swirling about his videos or collaged together like a Shibuya billboard. Japanese characters are another big player in Lean’s aesthetic, emblazoned on nearly everything from tour merchandise to album artwork.
Now that you know Yung Lean’s aesthetic makeup, stream his latest album Warlord below.